The value (& challenges) of energy benchmarking

We have recently begun to work with a number of commercial and hospital clients looking for a benchmarking tool that accurately reflects the similarities and differences between related buildings, AND will provide valuable insight into WHY buildings are performing the way they are.  Relating energy consumption to square footage is great, but we need to know why buildings are different and if they have changed over time.  This post will talk about the advantages and disadvantages of benchmarking and why it is absolutely necessary for multi-site retail and commercial buildings.

The Advantages of Benchmarking are very well known and obvious to those who spend time talking about energy management.  If weather and occupancy patterns are being normalized through accurate modeling techniques, then square footage of a commercial or retail location is a great way to compare locations.  If locations are a similar size, then their energy consumption should be approximately the same.  If not, then there is an opportunity to review operational procedures and identify changes that could be improved.  We can also create competitions between stores to challenge the staff and management to “beat” similar stores.  Providing relevant metrics that can be easily measured and compared makes competitions a very appealing aspect of benchmarking.

The disadvantages of benchmarking come from the subtle differences between similar stores and the challenge of defining metrics that everyone can agree on.  In a hospital, there are so many differences between the way hospitals are built, their age, the number of MRI machines, how many floors, how many beds, etc. and it makes relevant comparisons very difficult.  The age of the building, the efficiency of the heating, cooling, and lighting all provide significant challenges for creating relevant and meaningful metrics for benchmarking.

With all these challenges, why is it necessary for multi-site facilities to benchmark?  Companies need to have context on how they their energy consumption stacks up against their internal stores and the competition.  Energy Management Information Systems are able to normalize for many of the variables (weather, occupancy, number of escalators, computers, MRI machines, etc.) and provide feedback in the form of charts and graphs and reports.  If energy consumption is lower in 2011 than it was in 2010, why is that?  Was the weather more moderate?  Was their less traffic in the stores?  Benchmarking can provide information on all of this information, and ultimately provide context and relevance to utility bills that every building operator and business executive would like to better manage and understand.

Many times we hear from building operators that benchmarking can’t be done well because the facilities are just too different.  Our recommendation is to start small and focus on the metrics that highlight the similarities, and account for the differences the best possible way.  Benchmarking may never be perfect, but with a little work and creativity, benchmarking can be an important part of a corporate energy strategy.

Thanks for reading.

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Smart Buildings highlight opportunities for commercial properties

If you are familiar with the commercial real estate sector, the phrase “Smart Buildings” won’t be new to you.  But for the majority that don’t keep up with the commercial building jargon, Smart Buildings will be a household name in the near future.  This is because the technology that is going into the newest office towers around the world will eventually come to the average home owner; in the same way innovations in the automobile sector are often conceived on the race track.

Smart Buildings are buildings that are fully connected.  This means that all the regular infrastructure that are located within a building (telecommunications, security, internet, and energy) are networked together, allowing for unparallelled communication opportunities.  Think of a building that has a spinal cord…a central conduit where all the information within the building can be transported throughout the entire building.  But why does this matter for commercial tenants or builders?  Here are the most exciting opportunities that Smart Buildings will provide us in the next few years:

  1. Give real-time information on the “health of the building”.  Smart buildings will provide information on anything going on in the building at any time.  Change the building temperature, add an internet connection, add apps to read just about anything that is going on in the building from any computer.  Value: Respond to any event in the building almost immediately; have a real-time history of what has happened in the building.
  2. Reduce building waste.  Commercial buildings account for 35% of commercial energy consumption in North American cities.  What if we were able to reduce that consumption by 5% just because the building was smart enough to adjust the temperature and lighting at night automatically?  That would mean a continental savings of over $4 Billion with no impact on operations! Value: Reduce overall electricity demand; Save money; Lower Greenhouse Gas impact.
  3. Stimulate technology development.  Some of the largest software and hardware companies in the world are investing in Smart Buildings.  This includes Cisco, GE, and Siemens.  As this technology matures, Smart Buildings will eventually become Smart Houses, enabling this same technology to achieve the same results in every home in North America.  Value: Technology transfer to everyone; lower residential electricity costs; lower stress on the electricity grid.

There is a significant amount of opportunity for Smart Buildings to have a real impact on all of our lives.  If we work in Office Buildings, we may notice it sooner, but even if you work out of your house, pay attention t some of the amazing developments that will trickle down in the near future.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to comment below!

Thanks for reading.